STARRING: Maurice Dean Wint, Nicole de Boer, Nicky Guadagni, David Hewlett

1997, 92 Minutes, Directed by: Vincenzo Natali

Description: A handful of strangers wake up inside a bizarre maze, having been spirited there during the night. They quickly learn that they have to navigate their way through a series of chambers if they have any hope of escape, but the problem is that there are lethal traps awaiting if they choose their route unwisely.

In a twist on Sartre's existential play No Exit, six people wake up to find themselves trapped in a vision of hell that resembles what the inside of a Rubik's Cube would look like if it was designed by horror writer Clive Barker.

It is a veritable maze, consisting of nearly identical chambers (only their colors differ), some of them rigged with deadly traps such as animated razor wire that chops you into small bits or acid spurts that burns away your face. The trapped group, who has no idea how they got there in the first place, soon finds that hell is other people as they begin to bicker and fight instead of co-operating.

The entire exercise seem to be some kind of twisted behavioral experiment since each member in the team has a skill to help them unravel its mysteries and escape it, for example one is a doctor, another a maths boffin and so forth.

But the cube's design and intent remains unknown. Who built it and why? Someone speculates aliens, another says it's a James Bond-style villain but the best bet is the statement that only "the government could have built something this ugly."

"Restores one's faith in the science fiction genre," is the phrase you'll hear movie critics most use when describing Cube, a low-budget 1997 indie Canadian effort made for a mere $350,000 (that is, Canadian dollars).

I would have said the same thing, except that it is not science fiction that is at fault, but rather the Hollywood bosses' conception of what constitutes sci-fi nowadays. Throw in enough loud spectacle and the audiences will devour whatever you throw at them - how else does one explain Mission to Mars and Battlefield Earth?

Cube however has a stolid science fiction premise behind it. In contrast to most Hollywood offerings it realizes that a good intelligent story is essential. Add to this very competent and at times impressive production designs and special effects, sharp dialogue and tight editing.

Add some good ensemble acting by a cast of unknowns - which makes it more unpredictable as to who's going to get it, unlike, let's say, Alien Resurrection in which we know that the big name actors won't get it.

Make no mistake: Cube is nail-biting and exciting stuff. Rent it today - it'd make a great double video bill along with that other late 1990s indie surprise Pi (both films' plots depends heavily upon maths - without being dull).


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